A re­sources-poor ATF strug­gles to mon­i­tor gun deal­ers

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By K ate Irby

WASH­ING­TON – Gun rights ad­vo­cates have long sought to fight off new mea­sures that could re­strict the avail­abil­ity of firearms by urg­ing fed­eral of­fi­cials to make sure cur­rent laws are fol­lowed. But what if the feds are un­able to? Case in point: In­spec­tions of firearms deal­ers by the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives (ATF) are meant to en­sure, among other things, that they keep com­plete sales records so guns used in crimes are trace­able, and that they don’t sell their wares to those for­bid­den to buy them.

How­ever, those in­spec­tions are few and far be­tween.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral re­port, only about 58 per­cent of firearms deal­ers were in­spected within five years.

ATF of­fi­cials de­clined to pro­vide a more re­cent com­pa­ra­ble fig­ure, but in 2016, ATF in­spected just 7.1 per­cent of 137,464 ac­tive firearms deal­ers for com­pli­ance. At that rate, it would take the agency 14 years to in­spect all firearms deal­ers – likely longer, as the num­ber of deal­ers has been steadily in­creas­ing.

That’s not even close to ATF’s goal of in­spect­ing each dealer ev­ery three to five years. (The goal used to be ev­ery three years, but was loos­ened in the last decade.)

An ATF spokesman, Spe­cial Agent Josh E. Jack­son, de­clined to com­ment this month, but in the past the agency has made it clear that the is­sue is one of staffing, or rather a lack thereof.

“ATF has al­ways tried to meet in­spec­tion goals but there are so many fed­eral firearms li­censees and so few in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the num­bers just don’t work out that way,” said Michael Bouchard, pres­i­dent of the ATF As­so­ci­a­tion, which is com­prised of for­mer and cur­rent mem­bers of ATF. “If you’re go­ing to do the in­spec­tions right, it’s just too time-con­sum­ing.”

Of course, there’s no law re­quir­ing that gun sell­ers be in­spected – at all. Legally, firearms deal­ers must sub­mit to in­spec­tions, but ATF isn’t re­quired to con­duct them. ATF is legally barred from in­spect­ing a dealer too of­ten, though. Agents can’t in­spect the same seller more than once a year with­out a war­rant.

When in­spec­tions do oc­cur, they of­ten re­veal a range of prob­lems. Less than half of deal­ers in­spected are found fully com­pli­ant. In fis­cal year 2016, onethird of in­spec­tions found some sort of vi­o­la­tion, the ma­jor­ity of which were se­ri­ous; those in­clude a dealer sell­ing a firearm to some­one they had rea­son­able cause to be­lieve was pro­hib­ited, or fail­ing to re­port mul­ti­ple hand­gun sales to a sin­gle buyer.

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